On April 13, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) announced and awarded winners and finalists in the 10th annual “Ding” Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, following a contest judging on March 8.


Sponsored by the Theodore Cross family, the competition invites high school students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties to compete for prizes, which this year included a Canon digital SLR camera package, a one-year subscription to Adobe photography software, and a one-year pass to “Ding” Darling.


The late Theodore Cross, the contest’s namesake, lived part-time on Sanibel Island. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; advised the Johnson and Nixon administrations on anti-poverty programs; wrote the influential book Black Capitalism, among others; and created Birders United, a birding website that ranked legislators according to their record of bird protection support.


Late in life, Cross decided to indulge his love for birds and photography and traveled the world to collect stunning portraits and stories to chronicle his adventures. He photographed often at “Ding” Darling, and a number of the images in his book reflect his love for the refuge. Cross published Waterbirds: Portraits and Anecdotes from Birding Adventures in 2009 at age 85; he passed away shortly after in February 2010. His family established the photo contest in his memory in 2015.


Refuge facilities operations specialist Scott Norwood, professional photographer Daniel Suarez, and island community member Liz Birmingham judged this year’s contest. They reviewed 295 images taken by students from six schools and selected three winners and 12 honorable mentions.


First place went to an image titled “Swamp Puppy” by Luke Guillette of Estero High. In the description Guillette wrote about his entry, he pondered the survival of nature: “While I was sitting there watching and photographing the gators I saw many people come by and see the alligators then they would get scared by them and would run away or go somewhere else which made me think about why and how nature can be scary to some people as they don’t actually understand that everything just wants to survive.”


Judge Suarez complimented the photographer’s skill: “One of my favorite things in good wildlife photographs is getting eye level with the subject,” he said. “It’s a good technique, and this one achieves that.”


In second place, Hannah Finman from Naples High School named her portrait of the gopher tortoise “Testudinidae,” the Latin name for the tortoise family. “I just like the way the turtle is looking right at you,” said judge Birmingham. “The photographer zoomed in so close that the eyes are right there.”


Third place winner Kenzie Wallace from Cape Coral High took third place with “Bee on a Flower.” “It’s just a pretty cool photo,” judge Norwood remarked. “It’s the circle of life. Without bees, life doesn’t even exist.”


Honorable mention winners are listed below.


Judges and contest coordinators expressed great difficulty in narrowing down the choices. “It always amazes me, the quality of photos we get from these young adults,” said April Boehnen, who coordinates the contest for DDWS. “We marvel at the unique perspectives and angles.”


“Theodore Cross’ family made this contest possible, and it has become a solid success story,” said Ann-Marie Wildman, DDWS executive director. “We couldn’t be more thrilled the family wants its donations used in this way – to reach an age group that often falls through the cracks of conservation education. Thanks to the ‘Ding’ staff, high school teachers, and judges who made this all happen.”


“We are so happy to be supporting a contest in my father’s name, a contest that will get our youth involved with nature by looking at it – as my father so loved doing – through a camera lens,” said Amanda Cross.


To view winning images online and for information on the 2025 photo contest, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/photo-contests.


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)


Tyler Guillette, “Gator’s Gaze”- Estero High School

Eden Harris, “Macro Bee”- Cape Coral High School

Melissa Hiatte, “Best Friends”- Cypress Lake High School

Carter Koehler, “Fall Leaves in Florida”- Cypress Lake High School

Ron Marquette, “Fading Echoes”- Lemon Bay High School

Hannah McDaniel, “The Bee and the Flower”- Cape Coral High School

Ryan Mitchinson, “Holding On”- Cape Coral High School

Luis Ojeda, “Lakeside View”- Lehigh Senior High School

Angelina Pizarro, “Flor Morado”- Cypress Lake High School

Keilly Viera, “Rainy Flower”- Cape Coral High School

Lilly Witz, “Rainy Succulent”- Cypress Lake High School

Dahney Yan, “Hidden Colors”- Lehigh Senior High School



As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop profits. To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit dingdarlingsociety.org or Ann-Marie Wildman at 239-789-8991 or [email protected].